New York 1
To some, New York is Times Square or the Statue of Liberty, that universally-recognised icon of democracy that has welcomed millions of the world’s poor and dispossessed huddled masses. To us the first recognizable icon was something as simple as standing beside a woman hailing a yellow cab in the East Village on a chilly Saturday night.
Yesterday, 30 November, was our wedding anniversary. The longest we’ll probably ever have. Leaving Brisbane at 9.30am and arriving in New York at 5.00pm is, of course, not as simple as it sounds. In between was the slow torture endured by most international long haul travellers – trying to sleep in a space designed for the smallest Japanese person imaginable when you are a large, economy-size, non-Japanese person. Not that the service or the quality of the planes is in any way deficient. It’s just the sleep deprivation!
We survived – as we invariably do - and arrived at JFK airport excited enough to instantly wipe the 24 hour flight from our minds. Spirited off in a taxi by Anne-Marie and Ed (sister & brother-in-law), we were wined, dined and on the streets of the Big Apple just in time to catch the woman at the corner of First Avenue and East 4th Street, who unknowingly etched herself into the minds of two tired travellers as our first symbol of ‘being there’.
An exploratory visit to a couple of local bars – just to learn local bar etiquette – saw out the remainder of a day that for us had spanned 36 hours!
Even by local standards, a maximum of –2C and a wind chill factor of around –10C was considered ‘severe’ for this time of the year. What drew us to the streets was the clear blue sky and bright sunlight! Anne–Marie took us on a NYC orientation - a whirlwind of subway rides, Central Park, Uptown landmarks and, of course, shops. Now, as those who know us will undoubtedly know, Paul hates shopping with a passion. However, that was before he saw the New York Prada store. A museum of modern art in its own right, the exclusive Prada outlet leaves anything that we have seen back home with the Kmart and Woolies class. Not even the prices phased him ( probably because none of his credit cards were in any danger of covering even the cheapest item on display.) The universal favourite was certainly the $US 35,000 ‘picnic rug’ that felt as though it was made out of kitten fur.
A traditional ‘NYC slice’ of Pizza and a stroll through the West Village topped off the afternoon.
In the ‘City that never sleeps’ we were not about to fold early. A great dinner at an Irish Pub with Ed’s family and some ex-pat friends kept us well ‘at it’ long enough into the night to ensure that any vestiges of jet lag were well washed away.
Again some of the simplest images will probably be the most enduring. The splendour of one’s first ‘litter whirlwind’ in a NY cross street and an old yellow school bus full of orthodox Jews rounding a corner at ‘speed’, make you just want to ‘get amongst it!’… (Ray Clarke 2002.)
Reputations are mostly misleading and like that other word favoured by those who love to generalize, ‘perceptions’, are sometimes strongly fed by ignorance. The fact is that Twenty-first Century New York is one of the safest cities in the world. Not only that, but somehow its citizens have a most un-big-city like attitude towards those around them. Sure, the unenthusiastic plastic salutations of the checkout girls are less than convincing, but at least they go through the motion, which is more than can be said for most of their big city counterparts elsewhere.
Today, we walked the full length of Downtown from 4th Street to the Staten Island ferry terminal. The level of civility on the busy Monday morning streets was reminiscent of that old Chipmunks cartoon classic, where the characters become so obliging to each other that the simple act of going through a doorway becomes impossible because of their mutual deference. Every accidental brush of the shoulder on the street or collision on the subway stairs elicits an apology. Even at night, the subway feels safe.
Without the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, the skyline looks bare. The site itself is now totally cleared and the reconstruction of the subway that once rumbled under the complex has commenced. There is little to see here now but even on this very cold and dismal December day, hundreds gather at the fences to gaze into ‘Ground Zero’.
Given the dismal day, we spent the remainder of the afternoon at the Jewish Heritage museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Natural History.
The local TV news lead story was again the weather. Clear skies and freezing winds. Far colder than yesterday, but the views on such a sunny, clear day were spectacular.
Before we leave the local TV stations, the parochial nature of some of these programs is nothing less than hilarious. After 30 minutes of New York politics, traffic, celebrity gossip and weather, the anchorman led into the last five minutes of news with his national and international lead item, ‘Heavy snow closes highways in Buffalo, New York!’
On a full-on tourist day we visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and enjoyed the still imposing NYC skyline. What we didn’t enjoy was the blustery –12C to –15C.
This evening, through the generosity of a friend who dances in the New York City Ballet Company, we were treated to the best seats in the house for the Nutcracker Suite at the Lincoln Centre. An additional thrill was an invitation backstage to chat with our benefactor and have a look around. One of the most remarkable things was the face makeup the poor girl had to carry about! – A great night!
We had been concerned that we would be under-dressed in our jeans and scruffy travel gear. Far from it. It’s remarkable just how unpretentious the New York crowd was; people here genuinely enjoy themselves. On the down side however, large numbers of people in the streets and on the subway seem to believe that they are experts on everything and let their views be known to all in hearing, but then that’s not so unusual even in Brisbane!!.